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First Christmas after divorce: do's and don'ts

Throughout divorce, the mantra is always to maintaining stability for your children, keeping what familiar concepts you can during a life-altering event. Now that the divorce is complete there are still going to be those same struggles. Christmas is one of the biggest.

Holiday celebrations are built around tradition and family and, try as you might to set up the tree on the same day or to plan the big extended family meal, it just isn't going to be the same because your family isn't the same. The differences in your routines will be obvious, but maintaining even a few smaller ones can provide that foundation as you begin a new direction.

Just like during the divorce, the key to helping your children adjust is to look forward instead of backward.

Holiday do's

  • Establish a clear parenting plan in advance. There's no place for arguing about visitation on Christmas morning. Plan holidays ahead of time with clearly defined handoffs. Allow for flexibility due to weather conditions, church and school programs, travel and other possible factors.
  • Do it your way. While you were very close to your ex-spouse at one time, there's no doubt that you didn't agree on everything Christmas. Maybe he wanted gifts on Christmas Eve and you wanted them on Christmas morning. Maybe he wanted to watch Die Hard while you wanted to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas or It's a Wonderful Life. Now you can do that.
  • Try something new. It depends on your children and their attachment to tradition, but you can go big and visit a new destination, or take them to Grandma's instead of staying at home. Otherwise, make small changes such as visiting a local holiday attraction. Your home life today is a new experience; embrace it.
  • Acknowledge change. Don't make changes willy-nilly, but communicate the why and what it means now. Discuss with the children what you miss about last year's Christmas, but why it's okay to move forward. Don't dwell on negative feelings but don't ignore them either. Christmas is emotional and that means both highs and lows. Just make sure to keep the balance positive while talking with your children openly.

Holiday don'ts

Your role as a co-parent is to be a peacekeeper, even when it's ugly. When talking and planning Christmas with the kids, don't badmouth your ex or complain about scheduling challenges. Keep spirits up and minimize any conflicts between the two parties.

  • Don't expect it to be perfect or seamless. Your lives have changed and it's going to have some bumps along the road before you begin coasting again. You'll be upset and lonely at times and your children will miss the past. It's how you manage the bumps that defines the experience.
  • Don't turn to vice. As a divorcee, it's nice to have the shackles removed. Sometimes holidays bring out a reckless spirit. Over eating, drinking or shopping may create an escape, but it's followed by guilt and other potential problems.
  • Don't go at it alone. You still have family and friends who are there to help. You don't have to spend the day with them, but reach out for comfort and connection. Use the unfamiliar holiday to start those new traditions and to connect even more strongly with your children.

It's a new beginning

American holidays emphasize reflection and tradition, but also celebration. The first Christmas after a divorce is always an emotional challenge but preparation and a firm eye forward will help to build your new life.

When you remember last year's Christmas, before the marriage dissolved, it's likely that it wasn't all sugar cookies and smiles either, rather a struggling relationship that has since moved on. Instead, build strong new traditions that will empower you every holiday to come.

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